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Obama's Conflict: More Jobs or More War

Author: Leslie H. Gelb, President Emeritus and Board Senior Fellow
September 1, 2010
The Daily Beast

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If President Obama has the skill and will to drive home the main point of his Oval Office speech, he could become a great president. Simply put, this is the message: The United States needs to wind down its military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan as quickly as possible in order to focus on rebuilding America and especially its economy. In his words, “Our nation's strength and influence abroad must be firmly anchored in our prosperity at home.” And later in the address, he added: “Our most urgent task is to restore our economy, and put the millions of Americans who have lost their jobs back to work.”

The problem is that his other words and logic on Tuesday, plus circumstances in the region, will tug him in almost the opposite direction. Thus, though he pledged to withdraw the remaining 50,000 U.S. troops from Iraq by December, 2011, his reasoning suggested a much longer haul there—should the Iraqis desire it and should their performance merit it. Regarding Afghanistan, he seemed to say that he would remove the 30,000 “surge” troops he recently dispatched there in the relatively near future, much as President Bush rapidly withdrew his 20,000 “surge” troops from Iraq when their job was done. But the very ambitious goal Obama restated Tuesday night promises a very long stay: “We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat Al Qaeda, while preventing Afghanistan from again serving as a base for terrorists.”

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